Watch Your Wake!

By Pamela A. Scott

See if this situation sounds familiar to you.

Susan, manager of a mid-size firm, was exasperated.

“I need help handling Larry, one of my project managers,” she said. “He’s never been a real upbeat guy, but the current economy really has him down. He exudes pessimism every time he opens his mouth.”

“And he doesn’t care who is around to hear it,” Susan continued. “It’s having a negative effect on his staff—well, really on all of us. I need to keep people optimistic and busy. His attitude is making that very difficult for me.”

Susan needs to take Larry aside and have a frank talk with him. He probably doesn’t realize his negativity is having such an impact on his staff, as well as others. One thing he needs to realize is that he leaves a wake wherever he goes.

Just as a motorboat leaves a wake behind it, Larry leaves a wake behind him. His negativity doesn’t take up much space when it leaves his mouth, but, like a boat’s wake, it spreads far and wide. If you’ve ever been in a canoe when a power boat comes ripping by, you know how you grip the sides of the canoe and pray you don’t end up in the water.

So, the number one thing Susan needs to alert Larry to is that he leaves a wake that shakes up everybody else.

The second part of the discussion is that Larry needs to keep his mouth shut. A project manager is supposed to provide leadership to his team. Leaders do not go around complaining, fretting, worrying out loud, particularly about things they have no control over. They don’t criticize clients or coworkers. They look for solutions and ways to provide better service.

Furthermore, in focusing on the negative, Larry is simply attracting more negativity. What we look for is what we find. If you’re only looking for bad news, you only find bad news. You will skip right over any good news that is out there.

Susan also needs to be alert to her own thinking. If she has Larry pegged as a naysayer and complainer, it will be harder for her to see him improve his behavior and his thinking. She needs to keep her eyes open for new and better behaviors.

2 Responses to “Watch Your Wake!”

  1. Pamela:

    There are always two reasons for this kind of behavior, one is stress and the other personal problems. Sometimes, employees do not have the ability to separate personal issues from work. On the other hand, a negative project manager jeopardizes all the goals you want to pursuit. As a project manager myself I always try to meet with my group and ask if there are any problems or situations they want to discuss before starting the day, either privately or as a group.

    The agency where I work, tries to offer as many workshops on different areas that might help the employee with stress or any other issues such as feeling they cannot do the job, negative behavior brings negative responses to our projects, this is something we have to watch out for. Hope I helped a little!

  2. Richard says:

    Or perhaps Larry is openly and honestly expressing what the entire team is feeling. Perhaps the market climate at the company is truly dismal, the business model is circling the drain and management is totally preoccupied packing their golden parachutes.

    When you say that you “need to keep people optimistic and busy” are they focused on value-add goals, producing products that have meaning to the health and welfare of the patients, or are you just trying to appear productive in order to ensure that you end up above the line at the next round of layoffs?

    Or am I just another Larry?

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